Let's get the bad (and somewhat obvious) news over with first: it's very difficult.
No one's been able to have much success off of Kershaw, and the Nationals are no exception. Over his career, Kershaw has held the Nationals just to a .223 batting average (45 for 202) against him. With that said, Kershaw has his well-documented struggle with postseason performance - he owns a 4.59 ERA in 64.2 posteason innings pitched. That seems to be what GM Mike Rizzo is banking on. Still, as I'm sure the Nationals have had to repeat to themselves 1,000 times a day, it'd be foolish to expect anything less than the Cy Young caliber pitcher Kershaw has been for most of his career.
So how, then, do the Nats go about planning to beat Kershaw? By sitting on his fastball.
Here's a breakdown of the different pitches Kershaw has thrown in the 2016 season. Kershaw throws his fastball 50.7% of the time, and batters are -- relative to this other pitches -- having the greatest amount of success against it. Even that will prove to be a challenge - of all qualified starters, Kershaw has had best fastball in baseball. His 1.61 wFB/c, a stat that tries to estimate the value of any given pitch, is best in the league. The good news for Nats fans? Max Scherzer, their Game 1 starter, had the 3rd best wFB/c (1.13).
Can the Nationals capitalize on the rare Kershaw mistake? Here's a look at the zone breakdown of where Kershaw is throwing pitches and how the batters are hitting them.
Basically all the Nats have to do is just hit fastballs in a location -middle-up or up-and-away - that Kershaw only throws four and two percent of the time, respectively. Easy enough.
So, who on the Nationals hits fastballs well?
The good news: the Nats' best fastball hitter, based on wFB/c, is Daniel Murphy (2.76). He's averaging .384 and slugging .757 against fastballs this season. 13 of his 25 home runs on the year have been against fastball. The Nats are optimistic that Murphy will be ready to return from the glute injury that cost him a fair amount of September, and it won't be a moment too soon.
The bad news: the second best hitter against fastballs this year was Wilson Ramos. He also averaged .384 while slugging .675 and hitting 10 home runs agains the pitch this season.
And because you were wondering: in 2016, Bryce Harper hit .216, slugged .438 and hit eight home runs against fastballs this year.
Do the Nats want to try and jump on Kershaw early? You would think yes, seeing as the theory goes that if they score some early runs, he's out of the game and that's always a plus for the Nationals. Historically though, batters have fared best against Kershaw in the fourth inning, hitting .243 in that frame. Now there's no real meaning behind that stat, but it's fun and also in order to look for cracks in Kershaw's armor, you have to nitpick.